Ideas for virtual employee appreciation

Ideas for virtual employee appreciation

Many remote employees report feeling “out of sight, out of mind.” If your employees are going the extra mile, make sure they’re feeling the love.


The first Friday in March is National Employee Appreciation Day in the United States and Canada. It is a good opportunity to do something a little special for your staff to let them know you see them and value them. It’s also a good reminder to make sure employee recognition is built into your ongoing work plan throughout the year.

Why is employee appreciation important?

Employee appreciation contributes to:

  • Employee satisfaction
  • Team cohesion
  • Retention
  • Productivity
  • Feeling connected
  • More happiness at home

According to Forbes, employee appreciation creates an atmosphere of trust and makes people more likely to stay with the company. Employees who are recognized are not only more productive, but are happier at work and home.

Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) supports this, finding that for 70% of people, recognition at work makes them happier at home. As the line between work and home blurs for many of us with the rise in virtual work and school, this is an important consideration.

A September 2020 survey by Wiley (pdf) found that 51% of people were working from home at least part of the time, compared to only 22% pre-pandemic. SHRM has gathered data showing that remote employees are working longer hours—more nights and weekends—than before. For this and other reasons, 41% of survey respondents report feeling “burned out.”

SHRM quotes an employee wellness specialist as saying that “many remote workers experience feeling ‘out of sight, out of mind’ or, even worse, feeling as if their work and dedication are being questioned since they are not physically in the office each day.”

Indeed, the Achievers 2020 Culture Report found that 40% of employees do not feel recognized for the work they have done during the pandemic. The report found that recognition is the number one request from employees right now.

Recognition ideas for virtual employees

The classics: time and money

If you’re in a position to grant these things, consider recognizing employees with additional time off (even just an extra hour for lunch or a late start/early close), more flexible schedules, bonuses or raises, or professional development opportunities.

Take it offline

When we spend our days in front of the computer screen, steeped in emails and video meetings, anything happening outside that realm can feel extra special. Here are some ideas to try.

Mailed, hand-written notes

It will likely take you longer than you think to write and prepare these, so block off an afternoon on your calendar to devote to the task without stressing about what you’re not getting done. Take the time to be specific in your praise, so people won’t think that everyone is receiving the same generic message. (See tips for thank-you notes here.)

Care packages

Put together a mix of useful and/or just-for-fun items to send to their homes. For example, if your employees live in a place with cold winters, a small box with hot chocolate packets, vitamin D, lotion, and some snacks might be welcome. If your employees have kids, you can add a small age-appropriate item, like a puzzle or book. If they have pets, consider adding a pet treat or toy.
Succulent houseplant on a windowsill

Flowers, succulents, houseplants

This can liven up a home workspace, but make sure to choose something that isn’t poisonous to pets or kids, doesn’t trigger allergies, and can grow in low light.

Equipment to make work-from-home easier

If you have a small team, you can ask them individually what they need. For larger groups, put together a list of options for people to choose from. Examples: desk lamp or ring light, noise-canceling headphones, cushion or lumbar support for chair, laptop stand for standing work, etc.

Screen-free time

Because so much of non-work life has also moved online during the pandemic, your employees may be struggling to carve out time when they’re not in front of some type of screen. Encourage each team member to schedule a few hours every couple weeks (or whatever your agreed-upon interval) where they are on the clock but not expected to respond to Teams, Slack, email, etc. They can use this time to catch up on the latest articles in your industry, do some big-picture project planning, or even clean and reorganize their workspace.

Walk-and-talk session

Regular check-ins tend to be task-focused and the format doesn’t often invite larger discussions about your employees’ hopes. Set up a phone call during which you’re both walking outside. Walking puts people in a different frame of mind than sitting at a desk. Ask about their stress level, their longer-term career goals, and how the company could help. Bring a notebook to jot down what they say, and follow up promptly with an email summary and actions you are taking to address any concerns or assist with professional development.

Sing their praises

  • Write endorsements for them on LinkedIn.
  • Do you work with freelancers? Write a testimonial they can use on their website.
  • Shout them out on social media, from either your personal or company account.
  • Start team meetings by recognizing accomplishments and leaving space for team members to recognize each other.
  • Set up a Slack channel (or your company’s equivalent) for people to amplify each others’ good work.
  • Nominate employees for awards—within the company, the industry, or the community. Even if your employee doesn’t win the award, you can share the nomination materials with them, and with company higher-ups.
  • Have the “big boss” compliment them, not just their immediate supervisor.
  • If you have an internal newsletter or other regular employee communication, recognize employee accomplishments there.

Virtual team building ideas

  • Leave a few minutes at the beginning or end of meetings for a non-work-related discussion question, a few trivia questions, or for employees to share a talent or something new they learned recently.
  • This Fast Company article suggests a cooking class, trivia, comedy show, wine tasting, and virtual escape rooms.
  • Play games on the whiteboard, such as Pictionary, tic-tac-toe, or any of these.
  • Have a virtual happy hour where you ask employees to come prepared with pictures of themselves around a theme: favorite vacation, pictures with pets, etc.
  • Meals together: Buy a breakfast or lunch to be delivered to each team member then enjoyed together during a video meeting.

Employee appreciation by DiSC style

Everything DiSC map: D style with extra priority in EnthusiasmYou can customize your employee appreciation approach based on what you know about your employee’s DiSC styles. Of course, there is plenty of individual variation within styles, and the best way to know how someone likes to be recognized for their work is to ask them. In that vein, “How do you like to be recognized for your work?” is a great opening question for team meetings, because it allows team members to hear directly from their coworkers what makes them feel valued.

Some things to keep in mind when recognizing various DiSC styles:

D style

D-style people tend to value personal freedom, challenges, and winning. They strive for unique accomplishments and new opportunities. Recognize them in a way that doesn’t take up a lot of their time and that focuses on the results they achieved. A good reward for D styles is more authority or autonomy at work, or helping to remove an obstacle preventing them from moving a project forward.

i style

i-style people are motivated by social recognition and relationships, and fear being ignored. i styles look for opportunities to express themselves and connect with others. Of all the styles, i-style folks are probably more likely to be excited about group activities, such as a party to celebrate a team achievement—and they would probably love to help plan it. i-style employees appreciate novelty, so a good reward may be swapping out one of their more tedious regular tasks with a more creative one.

S style

S-style folks want to know they are making a difference and helping others. Show them the effects of their work, and how they make the team better. An S style is not likely to be shouting their successes from the rooftops, so you may need to be deliberate about noticing and amplifying their good work. A specific and sincere thank you note will mean a great deal to an S-style colleague. They might also appreciate a small gift showing that you have listened to them and know them, such as a novel by an author they like.

C style

People with C styles like independence and assurance that others see them as competent. They look for opportunities to gain knowledge and show their expertise. Many C-style folks prefer to avoid strong displays of emotion, and may not like a public thank-you as much as other styles. A good reward for a job well done may be the opportunity to learn something new or gain a new skill. Perhaps the company can cover the cost of a class, a magazine subscription, or a tool or resource that would allow them to get more data on something they’re working on.

For more, see this post (with examples) on writing thank you notes to people of each DiSC style.

Build employee appreciation into your year-round work plan

Appreciation works best when it is timely, specific, and personal. Don’t limit recognition events to annual holidays or work anniversaries. Develop a strategy for recognizing excellence as it happens, at both the individual and team level.

You don’t have to be the boss or HR director to engage in employee appreciation. Anyone can foster a culture of gratitude by tuning in to opportunities to say thank you to coworkers, amplify their successes, and make them feel like a valuable part of the team.


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by Jessica Franken

1 Comment

  1. Fraser Silvey 12 months ago

    Remote working brings with it a lot of benefits, but has its own unique challenges too. It’s well-know that employee recognition and reward are vital to employee engagement, so finding ways to apply this to remote workers is important.

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